McKinney, TX - It’s mid-morning on Friday, Sept. 17, and a steady hum of conversation fills the main meeting room of the Collin College Conference Center in Frisco. Arrayed across the room are rows of about 50 small tables, each occupied by a McKinney ISD high school student engaged in earnest dialogue with a volunteer from the local professional community.

A countdown timer on the wall makes its way to zero, and the pair at each table wraps up their time with smiles and handshakes. The students shift to the next table in line, and as they exchange introductions, the room is abuzz once again.

This is the MISD Business Symposium, an annual event that provides an opportunity for juniors and seniors in the MISD Interdisciplinary Study and Mentorship (ISM) program from McKinney Boyd High School, McKinney High School and McKinney North High School to hone their communication skills through mock interviews with professionals from the community and MISD.

Now in it’s sixth year, ISM is a rigorous MISD high school course for upperclassmen that offers an environment in which they can investigate a specific career interest through intensive study, research and writing. Ultimately, the program works to connect each student to a professional mentor from within the student’s field of interest.

Looking out across the room, McKinney High School ISM teacher Alice Dutton explains, “Our volunteers are asking questions, and our students are getting the opportunity to experience a professional interview. Then after the interview, the professionals will give the students feedback on how they could improve their skills in that interview.”

Those professionals represent a broad range of career fields: architecture, banking, business development, computer science, construction, cybersecurity, education (K-12 and university level), engineering, financial services, graphic design, healthcare, information technology, marketing, medical sales, real estate, robotics, supply chain, logistics and web development.

Alaina Simonsen is a junior at McKinney High School in her first year in the ISM program. She’s narrowed her field of interest to environmental law, and she has found the symposium beneficial, “It’s been really fun, and it’s been informative. I’ve learned a lot about interviews and how important it is to present yourself [in a professional way],” she says.

And, while none of the volunteers at the symposium are directly tied to environmental law, Alaina has been able to pick up some tips on networking. “They’re pointing me in a very helpful direction,” she says.

MHS senior Ariana Farokhmia began the ISM program last year because she wanted to have specific direction after high school. “Going into college, I didn’t want to not know what to do,” she says.

ISM has helped Ariana figure that out. “I’m studying business. Last year I did sales, and this year, I’m focusing on marketing. My mentor last year was in outside sales for IBM.” Those experiences and activities like the symposium have had a significant impact. “I’ve learned how to talk to adults, my networking skills have definitely grown and I’ve learned a lot about being professional,” Ariana says.

Tim Secor is a loan officer with Legacy Mutual Mortgage who volunteered to serve as one of the Business Symposium interviewers. “I really do think that this is great for kids,” he says. “I think it’s something that they really need to be able to do. So, this gets those jitters out and helps them to get some experience [with a professional interview].”

MHS Math Instructional Coach Rianna Turner spent plenty of time coaching students on interviewing skills during the years she spent as an AVID teacher. So, when the she saw the chance to help with the symposium, she was quick to volunteer. “To see students walk up to me and be able to hold eye contact and to speak clearly and to have a genuine, authentic conversation…it has been amazing,” she says. “I don’t know who prepared these students, if it was their parents or if it was the actual class, but it has been great.”

As the clock nears lunchtime, MISD Coordinator of Secondary GT and Advanced Academics Dr. Javetta Jones Roberson approaches the podium to bring the proceedings to a close. All told, each student has had the chance to complete a mock interview with four or five local professionals.

“Give our students a round of applause,” Jones Roberson says, addressing the volunteers. “Here at McKinney ISD, we believe that we have some of the best students, not only in the state, but in the nation. We are just so grateful … for your expertise, your advice, your support and just simply pouring into our students to really prepare them for society once they leave. Please know that we appreciate you, and we thank you.”